by Howard Lestrud
ECM Political Editor
Gov. Mark Dayton released his 2014-2015 budget on Tuesday and said he is keeping his promise to increase funding for education every year he is governor. He said there will be “no excuses, no exceptions.”
Dayton revealed his budget in the Minnesota Department of Revenue area of the Harold Stassen Office Building.
Lots of eyes were focused on the governor as he outlined his plans to make major investments in education and to offer new initiatives for a stronger economy and what he called a fair tax system. These investments are aimed at what Dayton calls a “Budget for a Better Minnesota.”
Department of Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius and Director of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education Larry Pogemiller were two of Dayton’s biggest cheerleaders. Both said the governor’s newly framed budget may reflect the largest dollar increase for education in the history of Minnesota.
Cassellius said she is optimistic that the Minnesota Legislature will see the value of the budget and will see the return on the investment in education as being worth that investment. “It focuses on all kids; these increases are significant in getting kids ready for school and in making sure that all kids cross the finish line,” said Cassellius.
The governor’s budget makes a major investment in early education scholarships and provides access to All-Day Kindergarten for 85 percent of Minnesota kindergartners. The budget also increases K-12 funding by $52 per student. In a media gathering following Dayton’s budget announcement, Cassellius said early learning is the key to everything. It is the key to being successful beyond kindergarten and in post secondary education, she said.
The governor’s budget also has a $240 million investment in higher education. He said these increases in higher education funding will prevent tuition increases, will support research and innovation and will align higher education course work and classrooms with the jobs of the future. The budget also includes a 25 percent increase in state student aid to help middle class families afford higher education.
The governor touched on the education monies used in a shift to balance a previous budget and said will be paid back under a four-year plan. The plan is to pay back $1.6 billion this biennium, leaving $1.1 billion to be repaid.
More than $640 million (including higher education) is invested in Minnesota students by the following budget appropriations:
• $118 million in new school funding, including $52 in new money for every student
• $125 million investment in special education funding, providing more equity for schools
• $92 million in early learning, including $44 million in Early Childhood Scholarships for 11,000 young children and other help for families to afford high quality child care
• $40 million for optional All-Day Kindergarten, providing access for 46,000 kids
• $80 million for the Minnesota State Grant program, the largest increase in 25 years
• $80 million for MnSCU (Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System) and $80 million for the University of Minnesota
• $10 million for teacher evaluation to support teachers, improve student achievement
• $8.9 million for English Language Learning to help students communicate proficiently
• $4.5 million for Regional Centers of Excellence to help the most struggling schools
• $1 million for school bullying prevention, creating safer learning environments
• $1 million for emergency preparedness for schools, law enforcement and community
In reading from a prepared script to outline his budget, Dayton said, “We know that education is absolutely crucial to better job opportunities, higher incomes and more fulfilling lives for Minnesotans today and for their children and grandchildren of the future, yet we have consistently cut state funding for higher education and K-12 over the last 10 years.”
Dayton added, “We need to put our money where our beliefs are, and where we know we can get results. . .Some people will say that we cannot afford to make these additional investments to improve our public education. I say that we cannot afford not to make them. A well-educated, productive workforce has been, and continues to be, our key advantage in attracting new and expanding businesses. If we short-change our kids’ educations, we short-change their futures and ours.”
Focusing on early childhood education opportunities, Dayton said there is a growing consensus about a critical need for early learning especially for potentially “at-risk” children.
Dayton worked with the Legislature in 2011 to establish Early Childhood Education Scholarships for Minnesota children, ages 3-5. Scholarships totaling $2 million were made available for 2013 and $3 million is slated for 2014. To date, 460 children have received scholarships of up to $4,000.
“We need to make sure every single child gets a great start” in education, Cassellius said. Investing in early learning and all-day kindergarten will help narrow the achievement gap, she said. Kids will come ready for school, good teachers will be placed in every classroom and “we will make sure kids know where they want to go.”
Looking for success in education, Pogemiller said that those students in pre-K, K, K-12 and post secondary education must be viewed in the same context, meaning an investment in education for all is essential.